A CHAMPION IN ANKLE-STRAPS.
By Ethel Turner.
Illustrated by A. Bauerle.
OH, if you please!" said Dolly.
The postman swung round on his heel in the direction of the little voice. Then he looked down. Quite a long way his eyes had to travel, for cubits had added themselves to his stature long after he measured six feet and imagined he had finished his bean-like growth. And the little voice belonged to only three feet eight inches.
"I never rerd you," he said.
Dolly looked apologetically at her shoes, which were very small and light, and of the kind called ankle-straps.
"They have no heels," she said; "but I breeved very loudly, Peterson. Didn't you hear me breeve?"
"No," said Peterson, "I never rerd anythink kat tall." He sorted the letters and papers for this big square house as he spoke.
"But it's Thursday, Peterson," Dolly said. "You weren't going to forget, were you? You would have waited, wouldn't you, Peterson dear? You know I begged you so 'ticlarly." Her little sweet face was full of anxiety.
Peterson was holding a letter within an inch or two of his short-sighted eyes.
"You said das sow you'd be at the gate," he muttered. An envelope addressed in maleto Miss Bridget McElhone always took the edge off his temper. At other times he was very kind to Dolly.
"It was Bridget," Dolly said. "She wouldn't let me not go for the walk. But I kept behind all the way, Peterson, and as soon as we got to Smiff's corner, and I saw you, I ran back till all my breeving had gone. I shall always be here, Peterson, even if I'm a minute late. Oh, please don't forget!"
Peterson filled her hands hurriedly—three long papers, a dozen envelopes, several pamphlets. His voice was quite cheerful again.
"Is it round the corner Bridget tis?" he said, incipient happiness on his face.
"With the perramberrater and Brian and baby," Dolly nodded. The odd, sad expression that was in her eyes when she ran after him fled away as he slung his bag again and gave her no more. Her face brightened and dimpled like a little sun-touched daisy.
"Tell Bridget I'll catch her up when I've given this to my farvie," she said tripping off on happy feet.
But Peterson halted one minute longer.
"Stop a bit," he said. "I've got ta another paper, rafter rall."
Dolly came back, sad-eyed again.
"Not a reddish-pinkish one, is it?" she said anxiously. "Oh, please. Peterson, dear, not a horrid reddish-pinkish one?"
But it certainly was a reddish-pinkish one that Peterson was holding out, and Dolly shrinking almost piteously from taking.
"I ain't no 'thority yon colours," said the man; "they're slippery kind dof things, colours is. A name's good enough for me, and the Bulletin's the name."
Quite a little moan Dolly gave as she took it; her soft little lips drooped, the warmth of tears was in her eyes.
But Peterson's feet were turned Bridgetwards, and having ears he heard not. His long legs strode away down the gravelled drive, his red coat twinkled at intervals through the iron palisading, but the Japanese maples beyond hid it for half a hundred yards till it flashed out through a gap in the trees, turned a corner and was seen no more.
Dolly was wearing a little frock of white, but over it, as the heat was hardly more than 80 degrees, Bridget had slipped a wide, comfortable little red cloak.
"It's not awakin' of me up to-night with bronchitus I'm wantin' you to do," the girl had said, resenting two gentle sneezes that had followed a cold bath. And Dolly, being the timidest little soul in the world, had not ventured to complain of the weight and heat of the garment. She was glad of it now however. She held all the budget of letters and white papers in her two hands, but under her arm and cloak she slipped the hateful red paper. Into the house she went, down the broad, cool hall, and through the double door that led to the study and kept nursery noises away.
"Here is the post, farvie," she said.
The man in the chair at the great littered desk revolved a quarter of a circle, his brow still knitted over a problem. He was forty, but his face looked almost boyish; he wore no hair upon it at all. Fine eyes he had, straight looking, compelling; his forehead was broad and short, though his hair was cropped, little rings of brownish gold clustered at the side parting and about the temples. He had a trick of shooting out his lower lip when deep in thought and half closing one eye. Dolly thought no man in all the world was half so handsome; it was worship rather than love she gave to him.
"Sort them out, Dollikins," he said.
He was too busy with the hundred and one clauses to a Bill he was bringing before the House to notice his little girl had not skipped across the room as usual, nor said "Post, po-o-o-st" in her little gleeful way. For half a minute she fidgeted beside him. Then he roughed up the curls that peeped under her hat, pinched her cheek, and bade her run off. But she walked soberly, carefully, all the way to the doors, closed them quietly, climbed all the stairs to the attics, pushed open the lumber-room door, and sat down on the flat cabin box that had gone so many voyages.
The old anxious look filled her eyes as she brought the bright pink paper into sight. She broke off the wrapper, smoothed it out on the box, turned its leaves with trembling fingers. Pages one, two, three were blanks to her; there was nothing which she sought and dreaded. But the fourth made scarlet rush all over her small face, great tears brim to her eyes, and a droop of shame and grief come to her little mouth corners.
Here was her father, the father she worshipped and glorified in a way exceedingly rare with a six-year old. The artist had drawn him in long clothes, a great fair-faced baby in the arms of someone dressed as a nurse, whom Polly recognised instantly as one of the big, busy men who came to dinner with her father sometimes. The was occupied in stuffing the india-rubber of a great feeding-bottle down the baby's lips; on the bottle were the words "Land Tax." The baby was represented as crying; it had its mouth open and great fat tears coursing down its cheeks and its long embroidered robe; its lower lip was pouted out, one of its eyes was half closed, and the effect was a horrible wink.
Dolly put down her little face and cried as if her heart would break, her shoulders rose and fell under the red cloak, soft, hopeless sobs went to lose themselves among the trunks and portmanteaus, the paper blistered here and there under the heavy, scalding tears. The desecration was as great to the poor little child as to an earnest, narrow Catholic would be the image of his favourite saint depicted with a pipe in its mouth and its cap tilted tipsily.
This trouble in her young life was like an ink-black cloud that rolled up once a week across the sunshiny clearness of her sky. Thursday was the day the paper always came; her mind had marked it in her calendar of happiness with a thick black cross. When she tumbled out of her narrow white bed in a morning and, after the bath, set to work to struggle with the tapes and buttons and hooks that nurse, occupied with the toilets of Brian and baby, had no time for, her mind was like a slate washed perfectly clean with the sleep-sponge. But about hair-brushing time, when her tangle of curls hung over her face, and nurse with vigorous hand was endeavouring to flatten out each unruly lock, then recollections would come flooding.
"O!" she would say, her eyes flying very wide open, and her face tossing itself suddenly free of tickling hair, "O Bridget, what day is it?"
Sometimes Bridget would be short tempered, and would refuse to tell until brushing and even combing operations were over. At others she would laugh.
"It's a queer sort o' child you are, Miss Dolly," she said once, "always a-wantin' to know what's to-day an' what's to-day. Sure an' what's it matter, anyhow? There's Mondays and there's Toosdays sure enough, but Wednesdays and Thurrusdays are just as good, and Fridays and Satdays ain't no pin in difference, only Fridays I can't eat meat, and Satdays the nursery gets cleaned out. Sundays is different a bit, p'raps. You wear your blue sash, and there's custard for dinner, and the master remembers there's chilrun in the world as well as Parlymuut. But it beats me whatever you want to know Mondays and Thurrusdays and common days for."
Dolly listened to the speech patiently, but in no whit removed from her desire to know the precise appellation of the day.
"Is it Wednesday?" she said.
Bridget's comb struggled with a wind-knot.
"An' sure an' I've no objection if it is," she said.
"But is it?" The little voice was still patient though anxious.
"No, it's Thurrusday, if you will be so perticeler!"
Then the sun went out of Dolly's world, and till Peterson had left his budget and she had crept away and searched the red paper to see if "farvie's" beautiful face was depicted with horrible additions, she crept about the nursery silent and almost smileless.
But if Bridget said "Monday, for shure; an' what else should it be?" or Tuesday, or anything but dread Thursday, then her dimples had full play and her face was cloudless. Reading was an art that had not yet made havoc or pleasure of her days. Her father's life, even from its earliest remembrances, had been so book-ridden he forbade even the alphabet to enter the nursery till, with her seventh year, Dolly began to be the new person whom, they tell us, each of us becomes after such term of years.
Pictures therefore were all the more important to her; she had a queer little mania for collecting all sorts and conditions of them. In her own special box in the nursery there was a heterogeneous mass of papers that grew larger every day, and that afforded her endless amusement when rainy days closed the garden to her. Almanacs, colored supplements from Christmas papers, crude and gaudy advertisements, picture-book leaves, snatched in fragmentary condition from Brian's three-year-old passion for destruction—the box was full and running over, yet still the small girl asked everyone shyly and pleadingly for "just one little picture for my c'lection." Her father indulged the hobby. When she brought the post, if he were not very busy, he would glance through any illustrated papers that came, take out perhaps a cutting or two, and toss the lot to her for pictures.
This is how she had first come across the dreadful Red Paper. He had been clearing away the confusion on his desk one evening just after dinner, and had thrown three or four copies of it in a heap on the floor with other litter. "Give those to Miss Dolly for her collection," he said to the housemaid, who came to carry away the rubbish to the copper fire. The girl took them into the kitchen first; both she and the gardener, and the cook and the odd boy liked the publication, especially the weeks when "the master" figured on the pages. Of late the Bill he was trying to force into the House had brought him very much into public notice, and to a certain extent into public opprobrium, and scarcely a week passed but the pen of the comic artist made itself merry with his features and little peculiarities. Ann enjoyed the pages with her fellows for half an hour or so, then she took it up to the nursery where Dolly was peacefully putting her large family of dolls to bed.
"I've brought you three gran' new picters, Miss Dolly dear," she said and giggled.
Dolly laid her seventh youngest down in its petticoat, and moved to the table. "Two before and free now—that's five to-day," she said gleefully. "Are they coloured ones, Ann? Are they little boys and girls, or ships, or dogs? Is there one with a doll in it?"
Ann laughed again uproariously, and fetched Bridget to share the fun.
"It's the master, Miss Dolly," she said; "they've been drawring picters of the master, 'cause he's such a great big clever man."
Pride came to the little trustful face,—tender beautiful pride for the father who was so great they had to make pictures of him for all the world to see.
"Show me, Ann," she said softly. And Ann opened the red covers and showed the three pictures that had made the kitchen laugh till it cried.
The master's face, certainly—even Brian could not have mistaken it. Every line brought out the likeness, every little black curve made it truer, more exact. But in the first, great long ears were added and the whole body and legs of a hideous kangaroo. He was represented as hopping along over a great plain, a tiny kangaroo in his pouch with "Land Bill" written upon it, behind galloped a pack of hunters with guns levelled at him. In the second one he was attired in the shortest possible ballet skirts, and was pirouetting coquettishly on the top of a great pile of Bills differently marked; his lip was thrust out and his finger was in his mouth; one eye was half closed. In the third he had grown enormously stout, his chin hung in folds, his eyes peeped out (one half closed) from great layers of flesh. He was represented sitting on a great sack labelled "The People's Money," and underneath it said, "Dis is what I growed on."
Dolly gazed incredulous with surprise, horror and anguish.
"It's not my farvie," she whispered again and again; "it's not really my farvie, it's only like him."
But Bridget and Ann could not let such an opportunity of enjoyment slip. They told her carefully and seriously that it was, that these were meant for portraits of the master for everyone to see.
"Sure an it's just the look of him; you can't be afther saying it's not, Miss Dolly," Bridget said. "Look at the lips of him! I've seen him look like that a 'undred toimes a day."
"But his legs," said Dolly piteously, "and the body, Bridget. Oh, Ann, Ann, it isn't! is it? Darling Biddy, don't say it is; they don't think my farvie's like that! Oh, how could they? Ann, dearest, why do they make him like that? Haven't they ever seen my farvie?"
"No," Ann said gravely; "the fellows that draw the picters in papers ain't allowed to see the whole bodies of the men they draw. They only have the head showed them from a portrait, and then just accordin' to the things they do in Parlment they have to guess what their bodies is like."
Dolly nearly wept.
"But how could they think he was like this? Dearest Biddy, what makes them think he is like this? Oh, why can't they see him walking about with his proper legs and body? And he is thin, thin! Whatever do they think he is so fat for?"
But the girls would give her no comfort; that's what the paper men thought the master was like, and so they drew him, and now all the world thought that was what he was like.
"It was no use worriting," Bridget said, going back to pat baby who was banging his cradle about in his efforts to show he was wide awake and intended to remain so.
"But what does my farvie say? Has he seen?" said the poor little girl, her tears dripping down on the paper.
"Oh," Ann said, "he was very sensitive about it, of course. It made him awful wild to see things like that about; but it was no good him saying anything, or telling the paper people he only had two legs and had never danced a step-dance in his life—nobody believed what members of Parlment said about themselves. And Dolly had better not say anything to him either, unless she wanted to rile him awful."
But Dolly did—at least she thought of making the attempt, greatly though her timid soul shrank from "riling" the dear busy father who, since months ago when baby slipped into the world and mother slipped out, had tried his very best to combine the duties of father, mother, playmate, and Minister of the Crown. She took him the letters as usual next morning, and lingered and fidgeted about his chair so long that he felt instinctively something had gone wrong with her small life. He put down his pen and picked her up on his knee.
"Well, my Dollikin," he said, and roughed her hair back in the way he always did, "how's the world treating my own little maid?"
"Oh," said Dolly. Then words failed, her tears burst forth, and her head went to bury itself on his coat shoulder.
"Why," he said, "my little one, my dear little woman! What have they been doing to you? Is Miranda's head broken? or has Brian been eating your share of cake?"
The sobs increased, the little arms clung to him tighter, tighter.
"Oh," she said, with a strangle in her throat. "Oh, I want my mamma, my mamma!" Not till that moment had she known that was what she wanted—not till she put down her little face, and sorrowful consciousness came that the coat shoulder at such a crisis was not so beautiful a place to cry on as the dear soft breast that had gone.
The old wave of sorrow, that piled sand ramparts of hard work could not always keep back, swept over the man. He went over to the low arm-chair with his little one; he forgot such a thing as a Land Bill existed. He rocked her to and fro, he kissed her curls and the bit of neck they allowed to show. Her tears wetted his shoulder, his own, fierce and hot, ached in his eyes. But when her chest grew quieter, and the desperate clinging of her arms relaxed, he put his own grief swiftly away to comfort her.
"Now, my small one," he said, "tell farvie all about it. Isn't it anything farvie can do? He will try very hard."
But Dolly, looking up to tell all about it, caught the wet misery of his eyes, and a strange, pathetic, almost grown-up feeling of restraint and sympathy came to her, and shut her lips from telling him. He was unhappy too about it—so unhappy he was crying—farvie, who had never cried in all his life. And had not Ann said he was so very sensitive about it that to talk of it made him miserable. She would not even speak of it to him.
When he found that no confidence was forthcoming he concluded it was a new burst of grief for the dead mother that had so shaken her soul, and he rocked and petted, and soothed and cuddled her, and was hard on himself, because lately he had watched her at play, and said bitterly to himself that she had forgotten. Then after a time he tried to cheer her.
"Let's see if I have any pictures," he said, and unfastened a cupboard. A crude red cover met his eye. "The very thing," he said. He opened it out on his knee. "Look here, Doll," he said, "just look here at the way they treat your poor father! Aren't you sorry for him? Look, some horrid man has made a lion of him—a lion with its mouth open to growl and an eyeglass on. Farvie doesn't growl so very much, does he?—at least not at his own pet girlie."
Dolly gazed at the terrible thing speechless. She could not understand his light tone of voice.
"Don't you care?" she said very low.
He looked tragic. "Care!" he said. "Shouldn't you think I'd care? I'm not such a very bad-looking farvie, am I?—not when I'm smiling and have both my eyes open? Why, I nearly cry, Dollikin, nearly get out my handkerchief and have a big weep when they make such an ugly, horrible thing of me. If it goes on much longer I shall smash all the looking-glasses for fear they'll tell me I'm really getting to look like they make me here."
And Dolly, usually keen as any intelligent child to detect ridicule and "making up" in' anything told her, was so miserable and depressed that she took it all to heart, and was a shade more unhappy than before.
From that day she watched Peterson. It was he, she found, who brought the horrible things to the house. Soon she discovered it was Thursdays only they came. On Mondays and Tuesdays and other days there would come pink papers, and blue and green, yellow and white, but on Thursdays only the bright red one she was beginning to know half a hundred yards away.
All the other days of the week she played and sang and laughed, was good, timidly naughty, quiet, and less quiet, just as the fit took her. But when Bridget told her the day was Thursday she was dull and quiet till the post had been and the pages had been feverishly searched.
Her father's secretary wrote at last, after some five or six numbers had failed to come, to the proprietors of the Red Paper to make a complaint. The Red Paper made inquiries. It found it had been posted safely each time. The fault was not with the office. Then it sent a clerk down to the post office to sift the matter, and the post office sent an inspector, and the inspector interviewed Peterson. And in the end they found a scrap of a girl, three feet eight, had been steadily purloining the package every week and hiding it away in an attic.
"For her c'lection, I suppose," the secretary said. How was he to guess the small one found the publication unfit for her father's eyes?
"You must always bring everything straight in, sweetheart," farvie said, "or I shall have to let Ann take the letters in. I will give you the pictures afterwards."
Obedience made the trouble greater. For six weeks it continued, growing harder and harder to bear as the Bill, already through its first reading, was approaching its second, and pricking the artist's fingers to fresh endeavours. And at the end of that time Dolly took things into her own hands and underwent and overcame.
One morning Peterson, approaching the end of his rounds, and about half-a-mile from the square house where dwelt the Bridget his heart enshrined, heard soft panting breaths and little light feet behind him. He swung round on his heel at the familiarity of them, his eyes looked expectantly for a well-developed figure and a ruddy face framed in red—expectantly but coldly, for had he not that very morning delivered her an envelope whereon the writing was distinctly masculine. But Dolly was quite alone and there was no sign of her bodyguard.
"What-tever rare you after, Miss Dolly?" he said in amazement. "Where's Bridget?"
An eye more trained than that of an amorous postman might have noticed the whiteness of the child's face and the heroic steadfastness of her lips. But Peterson's nature was a slow one; he merely stared at her as if he expected she had Bridget hidden away under the folds of her little red cloak.
"Isn't she coming at tall?" he said, and looked behind the small figure and in front of it, and then, as his brain worked it out, away down the road he had traversed.
Dolly's timidity was replaced by the dignity of resolution and independence.
"Bridget is making herself a new cap," she said. "She's in the nursery with Brian. I've been walking behind you all the way, Peterson."
"Well I'm blessed," said Peterson. "Why, you might have been run over forty times."
And so she might. Every time he had crossed the road she had dodged over too, one or twice just under the nose of a horse, in her anxiety not to lose sight of him for a moment.
He rubbed his nose and looked at her in great perturbation.
"What-tever ram I goin' to do with you?" he said.
Dolly explained to him clearly, gently. She wanted to goo the place where the Red Paper man drew his pictures. "And you said, Peterson," she added, "that you passed it everyday on your rounds, so I thought I would walk with you till you came to it. Are we nearly there, Peterson? We haven't passed it, have we? Please, Peterson, be sure to tell me when we get near."
"Well I'm blowed!" said Peterson. The slow machinery of his mind had just shown him Bridget, in great distress, hunting the place over for the lost child. "Bridget'll think you're stolen."
There came a look of grief into Dolly's face, but her eyes lost none of their determination.
"Yes," she said; "I'm very sorry. Poor Bridget! But I couldn't help it, Peterson. You see I must go to the Red Paper place."
"I am blessed!" said Peterson. "Why, it's right tacross the water, Miss Dolly."
"Is it?" said Dolly. "Then would you mind lending me a penny, Peterson, please, for the boat? My farvie will pay you back."
They were almost at the ferry wharf by this, and the boat that ran to town was coming in sideways, with much froth and excitement, to pick up passengers.
"I'll have to catch this boat," Peterson said, waking up. "What ton nearth am I goin' to do with you, Miss Dolly? "
But Miss Dolly had decided the question by running on as fast as her small legs would carry her. "Hurry, Peterson," she said; "we shall be left behind." And breathlessly, as she skimmed over the gangway, "I was getting afraid we should not do it. Weren't you afraid, Peterson?"
During the six minutes' passage of the boat Peterson had time to think. He was not very sorry for Bridget's anxiety; it would be just retribution for all she made him suffer. And after all, what a welcome she would give him if he took half an hour from his duties and bore the child back to her. His heart swelled at the thought of it.
What the child wanted at the Red Paper office he did not even try to imagine, knowing the limitations of his own brain and just guessing at the marvellous fecundity of a small girl's. He simply took it for granted that she had to go there for some reason best known to herself, and that he must lay his plans accordingly.
"Look kere," he said as they stepped on dry land again and turned to walk up to the city. "Look kere, Miss Dolly, I've got to report myself at the post-toffice up there, so what I'll do is leave you at the paper roffice on my way yup, and then come back for you; mind you're standing ready yon the steps. I'll have no time to waste. And mind you don't go nowhere relse. You could get killed din a minute in this street."
Dolly promised punctuality and prudence.
"Well, lere you are," he said, and put her with kindly arm up the steps of the dingy building. "Mind you're rere when I come back."
Then he shifted his leather bag to a more comfortable position and strode away followed, till the crowd swallowed him, by a pair of blue eyes from which the heroism was dying.
A counter confronted her when she turned her gaze inside—a counter with never a man behind, but only a series of partitions making little rooms. But a staircase running close at hand suggested itself, especially as there was a man ascending. Up she went on timidest tip-toe.
The man turned round at the top. He had heard the footfall, light though it was, for the boards were bare. He waited for her smilingly. It was not often so small and earnest a maid climbed up to this landing, nor often he saw the prevailing gray dulness of the place made gay with a little red cloak, a big hat and a bunch of yellowy curls.
The blue gentle eyes looked up at him searchingly.
"Well, you very small girl," he said, "and what can we do for you?"
Dolly choked the tremble out of her throat and brought steadiness to her lips.
"Would you please let me see," she said, "the man who draws the pictures?"
But he found loveliness and pathos, and something he could find no name for, in the upraised face, and he took her hand and bore her off into one of the rooms for some of the others to see.
"I've found a fairy and lost my heart, and all between the bottom stair and the top," he said.
Men in their shirt-sleeves sauntered up to look and smile.
"Whose is she?" someone said.
"Mine," said the man—"treasure-trove—does anyone else set up a claim?"
But no one did. She seemed to have dropped from the skies. She owned she had no father or brother or uncle belonging to the place.
"But who brought you?" said one. "Surely so small a thing is not at large alone. How did you come?"
"In the boat," she answered, the pink of shy distress in her cheeks. "Peterson is taking care of me."
"And who's Peterson?"
The pink deepened to red, for she was sensitive of the smiles.
The man who had found her drew her closer to him.
"She shan't be teased," he said. "I know what she wants—she has told me. She wants to see the man who draws the pictures here; she's fallen in love with him, that's what it is."
The smiles increased.
"We all draw the pictures," they said.
Six of them to seek amongst! Dolly looked from one to the other patiently, pathetically. Most of them seemed kind, ordinary, harmless. Which of them could it be?
"But," said one man, "I thought small girls only liked pictures of fairies and dolls and pussies. You don't look at our pictures, do you? You don't think we draw pretty things? "
"Oh, no," said Dolly, "oh, no." The fervour of heir answer was tinged with reproach. She moved closer to her first protector; his beard seemed, fatherly, his eyes were kind, and she found no teasing laughter in them. Perhaps he would help her to find what she sought.
"Would you tell me?" she said very low—almost in a whisper—"would you please tell me which of them makes the ugly pictures of my farvie?"
Still his eyes were only kind—there was not a trace of fun in them. "Suppose you tell me your farvie's name," he whispered back.
She told him trustfully. Then a gleam of amused understanding passed over his face. The week's caricature had been a monstrous one.
"It's Allerding's little girl!" he told the others.
"So that is it?" they said. "And the pictures you think do not do him justice?"
Dolly looked at them gently a moment, then she drew something from under her small red cloak—something wrapped in brown piper that she unfolded carefully. They saw a big panel portrait of Allerding as kindly Nature had made him and a skilful photographer touched up into still greater manly beauty.
"This is my farvie," she said with a little childish catch of breath. She showed it to them, holding it out with her two little trembling hands. "He is just like this, just. He is not fat a bit. His lips are like everybody's lips. Didn't you know what he was like? Oh, what made you think he was so ugly and horrid?"
They looked at the pleasant pictured face abashed; not one had a word to say, for to a man they had all tried their pencils on the well-known features. They looked hard at the portrait, hard at each other, and not a smile broke up their serious mouths. Nobody wanted to stand convicted in those sorrowfully questioning gentle eyes, and nobody spoke to take the blame.
Then the bearded man found courage.
"But," he said, "but my dear little girl, there's not one of us who doesn't like your farvie tremendously; we all think he's the best man in the country."
Dolly looked as unbelieving as so polite and timid a little soul could. "Do you really?" she said, and looked at them all very earnestly. There had seemed only two solutions of the thing to her, either they were ignorant of her father's appearance or else an enemy had done it. "Do you really?" she said.
One and all endorsed the statement. Two or three said they knew him—were most friendly with him, in fact.
"It's only fun, you small one," the man with the beard said. "He does not mind at all. I've even shown him one or two before they were printed, and he only laughed. You wee little foolish one, it's nothing in the world but a joke."
Dolly's face seemed to express the fact that she found it a very poor one.
"He only pretends not to care," she said; "he does not like people to know he minds. But sometimes"—her voice dropped to a half-shamed whisper—"sometimes it makes him so misrubble he has to cry."
A tear, clear and heavy, trembled on her eyelash, and the hearts of all of them were her trampling ground at the sight.
"Is there anything you would like us to do?" said the bearded man, so conquered by that dewdrop he would have liked to change the policy of the paper forthwith.
Dolly looked at him gratefully.
"If you would please draw a proper picture of him," she said, "just so that people would see what he is like. Will you? And with a coat and trousers on, please. Oh, what made you think he wore skirts and things? And he never screws his eye up like that—at least only a teeny bit. You won't forget, will you?"
"No," said the man with the beard; "I will remember everything. All the world shall see now what he really is like. Here is my hand on it."
Dolly shook it, with happier eyes. She gave him the photograph. "I had better lend you this, hadn't I?" she said, "for fear you might forget anything. But you will take care of it, won't you? It used to be my mamma's, and I got it out of her room. Will you give it to Peterson, please, to bring back to me? "
A white helmet and a red shoulder came round the angle of the door.
"You promised das sow you'd be ready," Peterson said.
Dolly moved to him instantly. . "I didn't think you would be quite so quick," she said apologetically. "Have you been waiting long? I am quite ready now, Peterson, dear."
The bearded man satisfied himself that she would be seen home safely. If only work had not pressed, she would have had a bodyguard of six.
She shook hands all round, peacefulness in her eyes.
"Good-bye," she said.
But her first finder claimed a kiss as reward for his promise. She put up her face instantly, even set her soft small mouth in kissing-wise. "Thank you very much," she said.
When Peterson bore her in to her own gate twenty minutes later he had no cause to complain of the warmth of his welcome, for Bridget, half distracted, was just setting off to the telegraph office to send the bad news flying to her master.
Dolly was shaken a little and told she was a real bad little girl; doubt was even cast upon the probability of anyone so small and inherently wicked being allowed to enter heaven when the time came round.
"Go upstairs," Bridget said; "go upstairs at once; an' if I see the tip of your shoe outside the nursery door to-day, it's wishin' you'd never been born you'll be!"
Dolly went without a word, climbed up the broad red-carpeted steps, unfastening her cloak all the way. The sudden burden of the knowledge of all the trouble she had given the servants quite crushed her.
At the top step she paused a minute. Ought she not to go back and tell Bridget how very sorry she was?
She turned hesitatingly. But Peterson was just inside the hall and the front door was half shut, and Dolly saw his big scarlet arm go round the lilac print waist of her injured nurse.
She turned and continued her journey so hurriedly she nearly fell over Brian who, unwatched, was revelling in the keen joy of going down the top stairs head downwards and with his hands for feet. When he righted himself, and his head looked a little less like bursting, he pointed an accusing finger at her.
"Naughty Dolly," he said. "Me won't love oo. Dolly been velly naughty."
Then his eyes fell to the tempting stairs again. "Hold my leggies," he said, persuasive dimples all over his face. "Blidget don down. Twick, Dolly, hold my leggies and let me be a wheelballow."
But Dolly felt so great a sin as she had committed in running away behoved her to avoid small naughtinesses, and she bore the little fat boy off to the nursery. His utmost persuasions all that day could not induce the "tip of her shoe" to trespass beyond the door, and her meekness under punishment, and her exemplary conduct afterwards eventually mollified her nurse.
"What day is it, Bridget?" was the early morning question again till the correct time of week came round.
And at last Bridget said, "Thurrusday, and be bothered to it. It's Ann's day out, and all the breakfust things to wash."
Peterson brought his usual budget—letters ordinary papers, the paper. Dolly carried them in with heroic self-restraint, for her fingers were tingling to break the wrapper.
"Oh, if you only would open it now!" she said at last when her father, writing steadily, took no notice of her.
Then he put down his pen and looked at her and it, and tried not to smile. He knew instantly which "it" of all his budget she meant, for the bearded man had told him everything, and his heart was very tender for the trouble she had borne for love of him. He assumed ignorance however, that her enjoyment might be greater.
"Open this?" he said. "Why, it's the dreadful paper that makes such an ugly man of your farvie."
"Oh, do open it," she said, and gave his arm a gentle push to hasten operations. He slit the wrapper, opened the covers, turned the advertisement leaves. How her heart was beating!
Then a little glad "Oh," burst from her lips for the front page lay open before her. Farvie full length, and such a beautiful farvie! The photograph was nothing to this. He was a king here, a real, royal king, with a crown on his head and a sceptre in his hand, and a magnificent throne hard by. Subjects bent to him; two were kissing his hands; everyone's eyes were on him!
And such a kingly, beautiful face it was. Farvie might indeed have been glad if the gods had dealt so generously with him, but to Dolly such a thing as flattery there could not be where this face was concerned.
"The Squatter's King," said the letter-press. There were some clever sarcastic things written too, but the bearded man had known she could not read.
"Well," said farvie softly, "is this better, my small one?"
He looked at the dear little face, so sweetly proud with love of him.
"Now everyone will know how you look," she said—"everyone."
"Everyone," he said.
"May I have it?" she asked. "Please—for my c'lection? I want to show Ann and Bridget."
"I think there is something better here," he said, and found a large thin parcel among his letters. "It is addressed to Miss Allerding."
"Me!" cried Dolly, and tore the wrapper off, pink with excitement. The original of the picture confronted her, coloured however with no small skill. Underneath it the bearded man had written, "My farvie."
Her delight was boundless; her eyes were clear, happy again; her brow the peacefulest thing in the world. She hung over it all day; at night when she went to bed she made Bridget pin it inside the mosquito-nets for her.
For another week or two beautiful pictures graced the paper. Then after that the paper did not come. "I won't take it any more," farvie said, and had it sent, at the bearded man's request, to his office in the city, instead of through Peterson's and Dolly's hands to the study. This was because the Red Paper pencils, to sustain their reputation, were forced to tend into their old ways again. But Dolly, secure in the knowledge that all the world now knew what her father really was like, recovered her spirits, and became merely six years old once more.
The bearded man had proof of this. Going up to nursery heights one evening with her father to renew his acquaintance, he stumbled upon her giving an object-lesson to Brian on just how human wheel-barrows should go downstairs.
"You drop your head down too far," she was saying. "Put your hands further apart and do it like this."
"Like this" was a mass of yellowy curls upside down on one stair, a little body in white muslin on the next two higher up, two slim small legs in black stockings and ankle-straps still higher.
Down she came, hand over hand, Brian in jealous emulation far behind. At the foot she righted herself and bounded up.
"Oh!" she said to the bearded man. Then her mood being expansive and childlike, and her memory good, she put up her face to kiss him and her arms to encircle his neck.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1958, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 64 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
Public domainPublic domainfalse